- Google is planning to relaunch a search service in mainland China, complete with government censorship, according to The Intercept.
- The project is codenamed "Dragonfly" and the new service may take the form of an Android app.
- Google pulled its search service out of China around 2010 because it didn't want to censor results.
- According to The Intercept, it's had a change of heart and CEO Sundar Pichai conducted a secret meeting late last year with a Chinese official to speed up the relaunch.
- The Intercept spoke to a Google whistleblower who said they had ethical concerns about the project.
The Intercept obtained leaked documents showing that CEO Sundar Pichai met with a Chinese government official in December 2017, as part of a renewed push to re-enter China.
According to the report, the project is codenamed "Dragonfly", and engineers have created a custom Android app variously nicknamed "Maotai" and "Longfei."
The app was demonstrated to Chinese officials, and a final version could launch within the next six to nine months, but will hide terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest. It would also block sites like the BBC and Wikipedia. The Chinese government is yet to give final approval, The Intercept said.
A Google spokeswoman told Business Insider: "We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don't comment on speculation about future plans."
If Google does relaunch in mainland China, it would represent a major u-turn. Google has a complicated history in China and its search services haven't been widely available in the country since 2010, when it refused to censor search results and moved its Chinese operations to Hong Kong. For the most part, Google search is inaccessible thanks to the "Great Firewall" that blocks many foreign internet services.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Greg Sandoval/Business Insider
The Intercept revealed some details about how the app might work.
The censorship will be embedded in image search, spell check, and even suggested search. That means Google can't point people to potentially "sensitive" terms or photographs banned by the government. Google will also operate the service with a local partner, so far unnamed.
According to the report, a few hundred people within Google are aware of the Dragonfly project, with one whistleblower speaking out because of ethical concerns. Most of the work is being conducted out of Google's Mountain View headquarters in California.